In the arrivals hall of Lisbon airport we hunted for our names in a sea of A4 laminated cards. We were expecting Miguel to pick us up but the smiling face of Sebastian greeted us instead. He said he was the boyfriend of Miguel’s daughter and he worked with Miguel at the airport. Sebastian was a very competent taxi driver, pleasing Dougie by choosing a route which passed by a number of Lisbon’s football stadiums. They talked footie all the way along the coast to Cascais.
This is what I love about our Inntravel holidays: the attention to detail regarding the arrangements. Miguel usually takes all the Inntravellers to their first hotel on this ‘Palaces and Pathways of Sintra’ self-guided walking holiday but, when unavoidably detained, he had ensured we had an excellent replacement and kept the business in the family.
It’s a shame good weather couldn’t have been laid on as well. Rain accompanied our drive to Cascais, the pretty coastal town which was to be our home for just one night before our walking trail began the following day. I spent most of the taxi journey fathoming out how to pronounce Cascais: ‘cass-case’ or ‘cash-keesh’ or something in between. Best to avoid saying it altogether.
Cascais is a former fishing village that became a holiday destination for Portuguese royalty in the 19th century. It’s not hard to see why. Beaches, a harbour, citadel and picturesque streets make this a lovely spot and, even in the rain, we were able to enjoy our usual just-arrived-must-check-out-our-surroundings routine. I can recommend Greenwish vegetarian café, a gorgeous little place for tea, cakes and soup.
Our accommodation, an Inntravel favourite, was Pergola House. The garden and frontage of this elegant 1930s town house was overflowing with blooms: bougainvillea everywhere. There was a riot of colour, despite the drizzle, and I could only imagine how glorious it would look in the sunshine. This small family-run guest house, with its antiques and family mementos, proved to be an superb choice for our brief stay.
After our short canter round the town, we were offered a welcome glass of port in the hotel sitting room, before we headed off to find a restaurant for dinner. We had sussed out lots of options during our afternoon recce and plumped for Pica Pica, a great value, busy little eatery. An octopus salad for 7.50 euros, grilled sea bream for 12 and craft beer at 2.50 a bottle – we loved these prices. In fact we ate like kings all week. Your Euro certainly goes further in Portugal.
The next morning we met our fellow Inntravellers at breakfast: Martin and Sally, Edward and Rosemary. The six of us were starting the trail that day, although each couple was walking independently. I think we were all checking each other out, knowing we would be seeing a lot of each other over the coming week. Would we get on with each other? It was early days but the signs were good. There was definitely a mischievous side to Martin.
Jonathan, the owner of the next hotel, arrived in his car to pick us all up. The plan was for him to drive us to the lighthouse at Cabo Rosa for the start of our 10km walk to his accommodation, Convento de Sao Saturnino. We all piled in and, accompanied by the unmistakable whiff of wet dog, let our driver take us further round the coast.
It was overcast, windy and the drizzle began to drip down my neck. Jonathan kindly offered to drop us further up the coast, to lop off a kilometre or two. I do think he believed we were all a little bit crazy but, as a Frenchman married to a Scot, he understood our madness. We even had his number to call if we got fed up and wanted him to take us the whole way there. But we weren’t about to lose face in front of everyone else. What’s a bit of rain anyway! We tightened our rucksacks, zipped up our waterproofs and checked our notes. In 3km we would reach a refreshment stop, Bar do Guincho. That was all the encouragement we needed…
This is my personal account of the Inntravel walking holiday: Palaces and Pathways of Sintra. We chose this holiday ourselves, as regular customers and huge fans of the company. We did receive a small discount which is payment for an article I plan to write for the firm’s website. All opinions are my own.